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The story of innova® Recordings begins in 1982, when it was founded by the Minnesota Composers Forum (now the American Composers Forum) as a way to document the McKnight Composer Fellowship winners. In its early years, innova produced several sampler LPs featuring the works of a range of Minnesota artists, many of whom have since achieved national prominence, including Eric Stokes, Libby Larsen, Paul Schoenfield, Steve Tibbetts, and Steven Paulus. With the advent of the compact disc, innova began releasing selected highlights from the top ensembles (the Dale Warland Singers, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Alexander String Quartet, and others) that had been on the Forum concert seasons.

Over its first ten years, innova built up a broad distribution network, far beyond the Forum’s own membership circles, and in 1994, the label — always looking for ways to be of service to the new music community — opened its doors to artists who had their own finished masters and were looking for a helping hand in reaching a wider audience. Thus was born the Recording Assistance Program, an exceptionally artist-friendly business model that has allowed the label to grow to one of the most substantial in the nation. In recognition of the career benefits innova can bestow on its artists, the McKnight Foundation endowed it with a $1 million fund in 2002. Interest from that allows the label to keep costs relatively low to artists (who also keep 100% of sales income) and subsidize administrative costs so each title can receive greater bang for the buck.

From 2003 to 2020, the label’s catalog grew from around 70 to close to 700 titles. We were producing 25 to 30 or more releases a year encompassing different genres, concepts, and approaches — all somehow non-conformist, individualistic, and often groundbreaking. Original works receiving their recording debuts (Afro Yaqui Music Collective's Mirror Butterfly, Joseph Bertolozzi's Tower Music, Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem, The Crossings’ Seven Responses, Kenji Bunch's The Snow Queen) sit next to reissues of long out-of-print classics (Talking Drums’ Some Day Catch Some Day Down, William Bolcom's Open House) and definitive career retrospectives (archives of recordings by Harry Partch and Henry Brant). Bold reimaginings of classics (Darryl Brenzel's The Re(w)-Rite of Spring, Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble’s In C Remixed and Music for 18 Musicians) collide with expansive cultural time capsules (The NYFA Collection: 30 Years of New York New Music, Sonic Circuits Electronic Music Festival). Exploratory new music (Mari Kimura's Voyage Apollonian, Maya Beiser’s Provenance and TranceClassical, and ETHEL's Documerica) mingles with modern twists on traditional music (Arcomusical’s MeiaMeia, ETHEL's The River, and Emanuele Arciuli's Walk in Beauty) and hangs out with lo-fi garage pop (R. Stevie Moore’s Nevertheless Optimistic). Field recordings from Vietnam (Stilling Time), Cuba (Habanera), and Belize (Lebeha Boys) cohabit with career collections of music by PRISM Quartet, Zeitgeist, Society for New Music, Fred Ho, Mark Applebaum, Barry Schrader, Andrew Violette, Eleanor Hovda, Robert Moran, Steven Miller, and many more. Not only does innova march to the beat of a different drum (the non-profit, artist centered philosophy, in this case), but the different drummer herself (and not just Susie Ibarra) is likely on the roster of artists. In 2021, innova announced an open call for submissions through our Bay Area Pilot program, which was the first step forward in implementing our new direction. An outgrowth of the label and ACF’s commitment to anti-racism, the Bay Area program was explicitly designed to support artists in both the creation and promotion of their music. Its existence was predicated on wanting to build and support a community of diverse artists and help them amplify their music. We invited folks to come to us with projects in any stage of completion rather than requiring finished masters. We encouraged artists to apply in whatever media format they felt most comfortable with, including written submissions or recorded audio or video. innova staff made time to give all artists feedback during and after the application process. We wanted to be clear that we are striving to be part of an inclusive musical ecosystem that seeks, nurtures, and empowers creative energy. We also wanted to involve more people in the decision-making process, so we employed a curatorial panel. The panel was composed of folks who have diverse approaches and ways of thinking about music, so we could cut down on “blind spots” or bias when reviewing applications. We wanted to hear stories and ideas. What is the current status of the recording? What still needs to be done? How would you like us to help? By listening to what each project needed and leveraging the knowledge of the people who work for the label, we could tailor a unique and complete experience for every artist. This work continues with new national calls open to U.S. based artitsts following the same model, process, and values.

Innova albums and artists have been nominated for - and won - Pulitzers, Grammies, and Emmies (notably The Crossing's Zealot Canticles won the 2019 Grammy for Best Choral Performance). They have received plaudits from publications from the New York Times to Czech Republic’s His Voice magazine, from the Wire in London to the Los Angeles Times, Italy’s Kathodik and everywhere in between.

Major grants over the years from the National Endowment for the Arts (2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2010) and the New York State Music Fund (2007) have boosted the label’s growth, reputation, and visibility. In 2009 innova partnered with Naxos USA distribution to expand its reach even further and is constantly adapting to changing needs and embracing new technologies. Philip Blackburn took over the directorship of the label from Homer Lambrecht in 1996 and led innova to further growth and notoreity. He was joined in that effort by Chris Campbell (2003) as Operations Director, and Publicist, Tim Igel (2017), taking the baton from Steve McPherson (2010-16)). In late 2020, Chris Campbell took on the role of Director of Recordings with Tim Igel taking on the role of Manager of Recordings. 

In 2012 innova was awarded the prestigious Laurel Leaf Award from the American Composers Alliance "for its excellent support of the full range of contemporary American music."